Family fun that you don’t have to tidy up when you are done!
- Developer: Whoop Group
- Publisher: Excalibur Games
- Release date: 14th November 2019
- Price: £14.99 RRP
- Genre: Track Builder
- Platforms: Xbox One / Steam
- Reviewed on: Xbox One X
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
When you have young children, chances are you’re going to have a wooden train set at some point. For us, it’s the only toy that’s been consistently played with year after year. Over time we’ve accrued more and more pieces of track, buildings, trackside decorations, trains and carriages, to the point where we can build an enormous train set.
There is a downside to this though, and that’s when it comes to tidying up and storage. From time to time you build a track so complex and awesome, the last thing you want to do is disassemble it afterwards. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough space to have a dedicated room (or three) to leave our track constructed, and we don’t always have the time to put together a track.
This is where Tracks: The Train Set Game steps in.
When you first load up the game, you are greeted by a very minimalistic front-end menu, which extends through all facets of the game, and this simplistic approach makes Tracks very approachable for younger children. When you begin, a brief tutorial starts-up which guides you through the basics of track construction. It is very straightforward to build a layout: selecting the end of the track in front of you allows you to add additional pieces of track from that point, to make curves you move the cursor where you want the track to go, and to build bridges you raise the height of the track with a simple button press. It’s highly intuitive, and you can be building a huge track in minutes.
The main gameplay is unusual in that there aren’t any objectives. There is no end-game goal, you are given the tools to create your dream track, and away you go. A game mode called ‘Passengers’ is available on one of the levels, where you have to deliver passengers to stations, meeting requirements like make the train jump X amount of times or dropping them off within a deadline, but there are only a handful of these missions which is a shame as they are good fun. Hopefully, more will be added down the line as they have a solid roadmap for additional content.
Free-play, where you will be spending the bulk of your time, allows you to choose from a few level variants to build your track in. There is an apartment, with sofas, tables, and cabinets to build your track on and around, and a bedroom complete with a bunk bed, table and shelves. There is also a vast, open sandbox if you have grander aspirations for your train set. All of these can be switched to night-mode, and the bedroom level takes on a Christmas theme with a Christmas tree covered with lights and presents around the base.
As any aspiring track builder knows, it’s the buildings and feature pieces that make a track complete, and Tracks has you covered. There’s a huge array of scenery you can place around your track. Buildings range from small houses to large, and apartment blocks to skyscrapers. Shops and service buildings like police stations are available if you want to build an urban scene, or farmyard buildings and windmills if you want to create a rural environment. There’s even a Ferris wheel and a circus tent! You can change the sky colour, amount of fog, and even make it snow, and it’s possible to fine-tune the environment just how you like.
Scenery options are not limited to just buildings, as there is a huge amount of additional decorations, nature pieces and vehicles you can adorn your creation with. Whilst the majority are static decorations such as trees, fences, tables and animals, there are also a decent amount of active pieces. You can set up fireworks that are triggered when your train passes a certain point on the track, or you can place a tower of boxes that you can crash through if you wish. A highlight of the active decorations is the music note triggers. You can place these trackside and, with a bit of musical knowledge and patience, you can make them play out a simple tune with the chiming bells. We managed to get them to play a rudimentary version of Jingle Bells relatively easily.
Tracks provides plenty of opportunity for roleplaying gameplay once your track is complete too. You can place platforms full of passengers around, pick them up and drop them off at the stations, and collect and unload cargo too. Tracks has added the ability to drive your train in a first-person view too, and it’s a wonderful way to explore your creations. It’s very straightforward to drive the trains: hold forward or back to increase or decrease speed, perform a quick stop with RB, and choose which path to take at junctions by holding in that direction. Like much of the game, it’s simple, straightforward, and effective.
The graphics on Tracks are quite simple, but they have a decent amount of detail, right down to the wood-grain of the tracks. On the Xbox One X, you can play at 4k30fps, or at a lower resolution at a stable 60fps, while on the Xbox One S you can choose between 1080p30 and 60fps, with the smoothness of the 60fps being the best option on both in our opinion. The graphics are simple but ideally suited for the task at hand, and they are smooth, appealing and help bring the world of wooden trains to life.
In-game audio is pretty limited. The tinkling piano music in the background is repetitive but soporific, and it provides a calming backdrop to your world-building. There’s the gentle clickety-clack of the wheels of the train as you are driving, and the occasional incidental sounds like the fireworks or musical chimes you can place on the track, but it’s by and large a very quiet, calm and relaxing game.
We had the pleasure of meeting the developers when we were at EGX this year, and in addition to the usual questions, we asked about who their target audience was. They are aiming the game towards under 10’s and over 30’s, and in our opinion, they have absolutely nailed it for that demographic. It may be overly simplistic if you are expecting a multitude of missions, or having to unlock track pieces or decorations by completing tasks, but in terms of achieving what it sets out to do, it does everything it needs to.
Tracks: The Train Set Game is a complete game as it is, but there are, of course, always ways it could be improved. We’d like to have seen more passenger missions, as they are fun but over far too soon, and maybe some other game modes could be created. A co-operative online element would be desirable, along with the ability to share and download tracks with other players too. We’d also like more options of trains to choose from, as although you can have several on your train set, they are all the same shape. If they could reflect the type of trains available in stores, you could have princess, dinosaur, medieval or wild-West themed trains, and this could also extend to the scenery too. While the developers have been creating content for free since Tracks entered early access a couple of years ago, a themed content pack at a reasonable price would be a desirable DLC purchase for many we imagine.
Tracks: The Train Set Game does a fantastic job of bringing the joy of wooden trains to the small-screen. Simple and intuitive gameplay with a multitude of decorative options makes this an essential purchase for any fans, young or old, of wooden train sets. A lack of missions or challenges may reduce the appeal to some, but as an open-ended sandbox experience Tracks is an enticing option.